Madi Bautista, MPH

Virginia Tech Public Health Program
Infectious Disease

What inspired you to study public health?

One summer I was working at a summer camp and a handful of campers and staff members suddenly ended up sick. We had to call in the local health department, and they had me help collect some data for analysis, and I knew I wanted to do exactly that. I wanted to be a part of an outbreak investigation team, but also I wanted to then be able to teach affected community members about disease control measures.

What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

For me, the most rewarding experience was coming home after having lived in Spain and being able to communicate effectively in Spanish to the general population. I was working one night and this mom and her son came up to the front desk to ask a question, but the mom only spoke Spanish and was using her son to translate. I was able to step up and use my Spanish skills and talk directly to the mom. The look she had when she realized I could help her and talk to her was of relief and gratitude. So often people living here in the US are shamed for not being able to speak English. I was able to work with someone who needed help and communicate with a population different than my own, and that to me was the most rewarding experience, and what drives me to keep pursuing public health.


As an undergraduate looking into public health, it almost seemed as if it was a major that would not get you very far in life. It was a major that your parents told you not to pursue because you would take on a bunch of student loans and have no job prospect after the fact. But, public health is so broad that you can actually do so much in the field. I want to focus on infectious diseases and outbreak epidemiology, but someone else can focus on maternal medicine or racism. You can focus on policy development in the government or access to transportation. While public health is such a large field, there is something in the field that probably interests you and you can turn that into a career. Don’t be afraid of the field, but find a part you like, and DO IT!

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

People do not care about public health until it impacts them directly. If it does not affect me, then it is not my problem and I do not care. That is the current mindset for so many. At the end of the day though, it does impact all of us and whether we are ready to accept that or not, we need to change the focus from “not my problem” to “this is OUR problem.”
Vaccinations for example, “oh well polio is not a problem here in the US any more so why would I need that vaccine?” Well, we can eradicate the disease ENTIRELY if you get vaccinated. We can keep it out of our country, and then focus on the last couple of places where it still exists and then down the road, we will not need to vaccinate against it because it will be gone entirely (like smallpox!) One small step can be the final step to end this disease if we make this OUR problem.
The same goes for other parts of public health like mental health, racism, and even climate change. While we as individuals may not see many direct impacts on our lives, we need to help those who are impacted. We need to make sure that mental health is not a stigma. Everyone should have equal access to healthcare so that Blacks are not three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications compared to Whites for example. Alaskan Native communities should not have an 86% chance of having flooding or erosion ruin their communities because of climate change. Public health at the end of the day impacts every single person, and by working together we can improve the lives of all if we understand that this is our problem and not just somebody else’s problem.